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What Happens if a Custodial Parent Deploys?

Custody cases are some of the most complicated and emotional situations families will ever deal with. Our children mean a lot to us, so it’s important to fight for our right to be with them and to raise them. Different scenarios will impact our ability to do so, however, and it’s important to understand how different scenarios will impact the custody of a child.

Military families, especially those that go through a divorce, face unique situations other families never have to consider. Our men and women in the military deserve the same rights to have and raise children as the rest of us. An active member of the military is not barred from winning custodial rights in a divorce, and Virginia law protects their custodial rights when they are called to duty and deployed elsewhere.

Custody and visitation during deployment

Virginia Code 20-124.8 specifically applies here. The law outlines several different circumstances and guidelines to ensure a parent doesn’t lose custody exclusively because of their deployment, either elsewhere in the country or out of the country entirely.

First and foremost, the law requires that any change to their custodial rights must be issued as a temporary order and cannot be handed down as a permanent change. This means if the noncustodial parent or guardian is to assume custodial responsibility, it will only last for the time period the custodial parent is deployed.

The law also provides custodial parents who are being deployed to delegate their parental rights. This means they can have the court issue an order on their behalf defining a family member who has a previously-established relationship with the child as the temporary caretaker. This could be someone other than the noncustodial parent, but it will generally not preclude the noncustodial parent from having visitation rights as previously established.

These changes to the custodial agreement can be rescinded or altered at any time by the custodial parent or by the noncustodial parent if they can provide proof of a noteworthy change in circumstances.

Custody and visitation upon returning from deployment

As noted above, the changes made to the custody agreement may only be temporary. Military deployment cannot be used as a reason to make a permanent change to a custody agreement.

When the military parent returns from deployment, Code 20-124.8 requires them to file to amend the custody agreement and return it to its pre-deployment terms. The law also requires the courts to prioritize these cases and get them on the docket within 30 days of the motion filed by the military parent.

If the noncustodial parent wants to alter the pre-deployment agreement, the burden falls on them. This means the noncustodial parent must provide proof of a change in circumstances worthy of altering the agreement in their favor. Again, military deployment does not qualify as a justifiable reason to permanently alter a custody agreement in Virginia.

If you’re in the military and feel like your custodial rights are being put at risk because of your deployment, let Rinehart Bryant, PLLC take care of your family. We know Virginia law and the needs of our military families. We are your Virginia family law firm and we will protect your rights while you’re protecting ours. Contact us today and we’ll make sure your case is done right.

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